Long Killebrew drives and satellite orbits

By John Kelly
May 28, 2011

Answer Man wants to erase any doubt that might linger after last week’s column about the derivation of Killebrew Drive in Annandale. You will recall that the daughter of the man whose company built the Ravensworth subdivision said her dad was a huge baseball fan and must have named the street after Senators slugger Harmon Killebrew.

Still, we lacked a smoking gun. Until now.

Randy Eckstein grew up a couple of miles from the Ravensworth neighborhood. When Randy saw last week’s column, he pulled out his 1962 copy of Home Run Hitters Magazine (Issue #1 ) and found an article that begins: “In a Springfield, Virginia, housing development there is a street named ‘Killebrew Drive’ in honor of Harmon Killebrew, the home run hitting hero of the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins. It is not surprising that it is the development’s longest drive.”

Randy met Killebrew at Twinsfest in Minneapolis in January 2008. He showed the slugger a photo of the street sign. Wrote Randy: “He verified that the street was named in his honor in 1960 and told me that he had tried twice during that season to find it, to no avail. I guess there was no ribbon-cutting ceremony or smashing of champagne bottles. But we are talking about a much smaller world, a much simpler time. And what a kind and gracious man he was the day I met him and apparently his entire life. He will always be my hero. And you know what? They should have named the whole town after him.”

Well, that might have made it harder to move the team to Minnesota.

Speaking of street names, Answer Man is fascinated by the ways they are chosen and the themes that they have. Seldom are they random. Not far from Killebrew Drive is a neighborhood with these streets: Garbo Court, Bogart Court, Zanuck Court and DeMille Court. Named by a fan of old Hollywood, perhaps?

Answer Man grew up not far from a Rockville neighborhood whose streets were inspired by World War II battles: Midway Avenue, Coral Sea Avenue, Ardennes Avenue, St. Lo Avenue, etc. What effect must this have had on GIs buying starter homes after the war?

Heading west on I-270, you can see off to the right the low, white Comsat Laboratories, designed by Cesar Pelli and built in 1969. The street the building is on is Comsat Drive. The address: 22300.

The number is fitting: 22,300 miles is the distance from Earth of the geosynchronous orbit, the parking spot for communications satellites of the sort that Comsat operated. Answer Man’s late father-in-law was the first director of Comsat Labs, and the story passed down in family lore was that he picked the address as an inside joke for satellite nerds.

Consulting with old Comsat types, Answer Man learned it could very well have been someone else at the company who picked the number, but for the same reason.

And then Answer Man heard from Dave Hudgel, who worked for Montgomery Park and Planning for 30 years before retiring in 1994. “I’m the guy that assigned all the house numbers in the upper part of Montgomery County,” he said. “It took me 11 years to do everything above Norbeck Road.”

Dave remembers someone from Comsat calling to request a number for the company’s new headquarters. Dave said he went to his maps, did a calculation (the area’s numbering system starts at the U.S. Capitol) and told Comsat that, given the side of the street the building was on and how far out it was, its five-digit number would be 22300.

“They did not pick it,” Dave said. It was years later when someone told him that 22,300 miles is the height of geosynchronous satellites.

Answer Man expressed his skepticism.

“Get an ADC map and look at the address ranges along the streets, look at [Route] 355,” Dave said. Indeed, whether it’s Frederick Road, Laytonsville Road or Peach Tree Road, all the addresses in that east-west swath are in the 22000-block.

“That’s why I’m saying it was so unbelievable,” Dave said. “They built that place right on the 22300 grid line. It’s an amazing coincidence.”

A cosmic coincidence?

Do you have an interesting story about how your neighborhood got is name? Or how the street names were picked? Send them, or any questions about the Washington area, to answerman@washpost.com.

John Kelly

John Kelly writes John Kelly's Washington, a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. Follow